Spectre Baiting

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by HVM_Boy, Oct 25, 2004.

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  1. Apologies if this has been posted before......


    British act as bait in war with Mahdi
    Stephen Grey, Amara

    THEY called it “Spectre baiting”. Sergeant Craig Brodie, 33, sensed his men’s nervousness in the grim little joke as their Warrior armoured vehicle crawled down a darkened street in the southern Iraqi city of Amara. They were keyed up for action and concentrating for all they were worth.
    Lurking in the shadows ahead was a group of rebel gunmen from the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric. Brodie’s job was to lure them into the open so an AC-130 Spectre gunship overhead could destroy them with its cannons and howitzers.

    The rebels would show themselves only if they were attacking the British Warrior, so it was no surprise to Brodie that the atmosphere in the vehicle was tense.

    By contrast, the American voice in his earphones could not have been cooler. “Steel rain on call,” drawled the controller of the US special forces gunship circling in the starry night sky and waiting for the moment to strike.

    There was a pause as the Warrior edged forward. Then the controller, codenamed Basher 75, came back on the radio. Six to eight armed men had been spotted with the Spectre’s night vision equipment. They were preparing to ambush.

    “Any foxhounds out?” asked the controller, checking that there were no dismounted soldiers who needed to get back inside Brodie’s vehicle fast.

    It was just as well the answer was negative. The Mahdi militiamen were now less than 100 yards away and the Spectre was about to swing into action.

    Colonel Matt Maer, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (PWRR), had given special written authorisation for the Spectre to open fire even if his own troops were within the potential blast area. This was to be the first such “danger close” engagement signed off by a British commander since the Korean war.

    Brodie locked down his hatch and stared through his night-sights at the Mahdi militiamen. “We were in so close we watched them laughing and joking,” he recalled. “Basher then announced, ‘Rounds on the way,’ and at the same time I engaged with my cannon.

    “The strike was an awesome sight. There was no flame, just a big puff and then hot metal shrapnel flying in all directions. In three or four seconds the smoke cleared and there was nothing there at all. The militia had been vaporised.”

    The battle that began that night — August 10 — was codenamed Operation Hammersmith and became the biggest fought by British troops since the invasion of Iraq last year. More than 100 engagements would follow in 48 hours.

    The objective of the operation was to retake Amara’s streets from al-Sadr’s fighters.

    Fourteen Warriors in each of two companies, one from the PWRR and one from the Black Watch regiment, fanned out across the city in search of the enemy. They were supported by tanks from the Queen’s Royal Lancers along with helicopters, jets and the Spectre gunships.

    The largely unreported clashes that ensued were of exceptional ferocity. During August alone, British soldiers in Amara fired more than 40,000 rounds of ammunition.

    Last week, as they prepared to return home after a seven-month tour of duty in Amara, members of Y company of the PWRR described the horror of the combat and their simple relief to be escaping alive.

    “We were absolutely pummelled, really shot to pieces,” said Corporal Al Horn. “We still don’t know how people didn’t get hit.”
    Back in July, most of the PWRR’s soldiers believed they had seen the worst after three months of fighting in Amara, a lawless city of 350,000 people close to the Iranian border.

    A truce was shattered in early August when US forces began their assault on Mahdi positions in Najaf’s Imam Ali mosque, one of the most revered shrines of Shi’ite Islam. Hundreds of fighters rallied to al-Sadr’s banner in a new uprising.

    Most of the fighting was in the centre of Amara around a British outpost known as CIMIC house, defended by little more than 70 members of Y company supported by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

    The first attack came on August 5. A memorial service had just finished for a Y company soldier killed in a road accident and the men were eating their lunch. At 1.37pm there was a loud explosion as a mortar shell hit a roof. The men dived for cover.

    For day after day the onslaught continued. The men were attacked with 595 mortar rounds (in a total of 200 attacks) and with machinegun and sniper fire, and had to repel eight direct assaults on their walls. “It was pure war,” said Major Justin Featherstone, 33, the company’s commander.

    Hundreds of members of the Mahdi militia were meanwhile taking to the streets and captured all but two police stations.

    Maer responded by dispatching a column of Warriors from a base outside Amara to reinforce CIMIC. Sergeant Dave Perfect, who commanded one vehicle, said he was under constant attack as he entered the city. “The ambush they prepared was absolutely staggering,” he said.

    The British forces tried to calm the situation but by August 10, after an appeal from the city’s beleaguered police chief, they had decided a show of force was needed — hence Operation Hammersmith and the Spectre, whose 25mm Gatling guns alone can fire 1,800 rounds per minute. Hundreds of Mahdi militia were engaged; many were killed.

    As the British moved across the city, the fiercest fighting was in pitch darkness when the soldiers found it hard to see where the fire was coming from. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGS) produced a steady toll of casualties.

    Thomas Ferguson, 21, a private from Bracknell, Berkshire, was at the wheel of a Warrior when it was hit by two RPGs from the right and a third from the left, causing an explosion by his feet.

    “It was quite surreal — there was a massive flash and the helmet came off my head,” he said. “Black smoke was everywhere — and I had burns on my legs and face and mouth and hands. I pushed open the hatch and realised I was in great pain. I couldn’t see properly and I knew I was in trouble.”

    Kenny Hills, 21, the gunner on the Warrior, jumped out of the turret to rescue his friend. Braving bullets that were cracking over his head, he led him back to a rescue Warrior at the back of their convoy.

    In the panic, Hills had lost his helmet and when he returned he had to take Ferguson’s place at the wheel, even though he had never driven a Warrior before.

    Conditions in CIMIC became increasingly tough. One mortar round knocked out the generator; another broke a connection to the local electricity grid, leaving no power for days. With up to 10 days between resupply convoys, the men were often down to eating ration packs.

    “We were so attuned,” said Dale Norman, sergeant-major of Y company. “If it was quiet outside, we would be listening for the pops of the mortar being launched. You sat there thinking, ‘Is it or ain’t it going to hit here?’ It took big balls to remain at your post.”
    By the end of the month the CIMIC compound was in ruins but the British were determined not to abandon it for fear of handing a symbolic victory to the Mahdi army.

    A ceasefire in Najaf brought the Mahdi army back to the negotiating table and another truce was agreed on September 4. Since then the city has been mainly peaceful.

    For the British the casualties had proved mercifully light. At the end of its tour the PWRR could count about 150 injuries, although few were grievous. Nobody was killed in the Amara fighting.

    However, as they prepare to return home to Britain in the next fortnight, commanders have warned their men of the psychological difficulties they will face adjusting after their involvement in a bloody but largely unreported conflict.

    Maer urged his troops not to think of glory but of the old soldiers at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday: “They will see men who stand there with quiet dignity. They know what we have been through.”

    The job of rebuilding the city they left behind — and of finding jobs for the 70% of local people without work, has yet to be completed. “We came to do a job and rebuild the country,” said one member of the regiment. “We haven’t achieved that. What we have done is just protect ourselves. We’ve just been trying to survive.”
  2. Good Job the PWRR.

    Apparently on 4 Bdes recce, CO 1 PWRR said that every member of his BG had fired their weapon in anger. Don't hear much about the PWRR in the news do you?
  3. Memo to MoD:

    Buy SPECTRE.
  4. And don't let the crabs anywhere near it!
  5. Cripes, or the Army Air Corps for that matter.

    Yanks are looking to replace AC130 with a stealth version. Perhaps we can have their castoffs.

    Will have a look on e-Bay.
  6. There were orders from London to keep journos away from the action. The few in-country were carefully chaperoned and shown water projects and school refurbishment and well away from the fireworks. We can't have it both ways.
  7. Huge amount of testicular fortitude, - my hat is off to them.
  8. Well said that man.
  9. I'll second that. Well done the PWRR.
  10. We had some cover in the local press, as a local lad took part in one the few instances of a bayonet charge since Korea.

    funny though how the Brit press refuses to cover an incident which demonstrates the Army doing an exceptional job in dealing with terrorist and thugs, trying to make safe a town that just wants to get on with the re-building of their infrastructure - god how boring, eh!
  11. [quote="Plastic Yank funny though how the Brit press refuses to cover an incident which demonstrates the Army doing an exceptional job in dealing with terrorist and thugs, trying to make safe a town that just wants to get on with the re-building of their infrastructure - god how boring, eh![/quote]

    I don't think it had anything to do with "refusing". The Telegraph and others kicked up shi* about not being allowed to embed with units in Basra and Al Amarah during the Al Mahdi uprising. Orders from Downing Street to stop it happening, and minders from the Cabinet Office to enforce it on the ground. They can't report what they're not allowed to see. 8)